Some horse industry organizations (HIOs), which inspect horses presented for padded classes at Tennessee Walking Horse shows, failed to find any Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations when federal inspectors were not present at the events, according to a letter sent to HIO managers by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The HPA forbids soring, the deliberate injury to a horse’s feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated gait. Designated qualified persons (DQPs), licensed by the USDA and certified HIOs, or APHIS personnel, if present, inspect horses presented for competition at Tennessee Walking Horse shows for HPA violations.

In a May 10 letter sent to HIO managers, trainers, owners, and exhibitors, Bernadette Juarez, deputy APHIS administrator, wrote that from October 2017 to March 2018, the “vast majority” of HIOs that inspect padded horses did not detect any HPA noncompliance when the USDA was not present at a show. The lone exception was S.H.O.W. Inc.

“From a statistical perspective, it is highly unlikely that exhibitors only present noncompliant horses for inspection when USDA is present at a horse show,” she wrote. “In short, I remain very concerned about HIOs, especially those inspecting padded horses, whose rate of noncompliance is zero when USDA is not present or are markedly different when USDA is not present.”

Jeff Howard, a S.H.O.W. Board of Directors member, said the organization has worked with the USDA to make sure both organizations are on the same page regarding HPA enforcement.

“Bernadette Juarez has challenged all of the HIOs to make sure our enforcement is consistent year-round, whether USDA is in attendance working with the DQPs or not,” he said. “We take her challenge seriously and are working hard to ensure that consistency exists in the S.H.O.W. HIO.”

Meanwhile, APHIS said it would respond to the findings by attending events affiliated with HIOs that detected zero or very few HPA noncompliances and work in the field with DQPs to assess the true noncompliance rate.

Accurate and consistent inspections are key to “ending the practice of soring horses and promoting fair competition,” Juarez wrote.